I was tethering between 2 and 2.5 on this one, but finally opted for the bigger one because 1) the cover-art, which we all know is stunning, is also an amp to help imagining the various pictures the author paints and 2) I've always found the darker side of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland oddly appealing.
This author is amazing at describing the two worlds Alyssa finds herself in and it paints this surreal, yet breathtaking picture that keeps the reader engaged and hungry for more. Sometimes, she takes it a few steps too far, unfortunately, in describing what people are wearing and what they look like, rather than who they are and how they act.
The story tells of how Alyssa's ancestor, Alice Liddell, messed up things in Wonderland, and now Alyssa has to fix it with the help of her forgotten childhood friend, Morpheus, the 'Caterpillar', and her long-time friend and secret crush Jeb, from the real world.
Most of the events and inhabitants in Wonderland have been given a macabre twist, their original appearance apparently seen 'falsely' through a child's eyes. A really engaging and clever twist, that makes the whole story spring to life and engages even those who've read the original.
First thing I want to get straight, though: Queen of Hearts and Red Queen? NOT THE SAME! This common misperception that they are, always gets under my skin, though I cannot completely explain why, and this book makes the exact same mistake.
The Queen of Hearts, refers (obviously) to the card in a regular 52-card deck, between the King of Hearts and the Jack of Hearts. The Red Queen refers to the Red Queen in a red and white chess set; they were never the same person in Carroll's books, and they never behaved the same. It was disappointing to see Howard morph them into her Queen Red, at least for me, it's been done to death.
Now, as for the characters? They bugged me...a lot. I hate love triangles because it's usually VERY obvious which way it'll ultimately go and I have yet to find a good, strong heroine who says 'screw both, I'm better off on my own!' which I strongly believe Alyssa should be saying when presented with these two particularly sub par specimens.
Let's look at Jeb: devilish handsome and muscular, got the whole 'alternative look' going for him and seems to totally get Alyssa's human side, such as her art and love for skateboarding. However, he's a condescending control freak who's going behind her back to support her father in keeping her home, showing massive hypocrisy in doing so, since he's already planned his own trip to London.
He treats her like a child, who can't do anything, going out of his way to protect her in Wonderland but can't bothered to lift a finger in order to stop his nasty girlfriend's attacks on his supposed 'secret crush', blaming Alyssa, rather than the girl whom he admits has a manipulative mean streak. O, Logic! How thou hast fallen!
Now for Morpheus: Let's see, he's also smoldering hot, mysterious and dangerous, and he believes in Alyssa's powers and inner strength and totally gets her Netherling side and the way it calls to her. He's a manipulative, lying jerk who cares about no one else's agenda but his own and though he encourages Alyssa's powers, he believes the best way to 'let them develop' is simply throwing her into countless dangerous situations, never telling her why it's necessary beforehand.
Rather than gaining wisdom from his age (and he is old) it seems to have merely heightened his arrogance to the point where all I wanted to do was have him transform into a moth and pull of his wings, slowly, one at a time. His condescension is of a different kind but equally as bad and even dangerous. And it's quite possible (even hinted at times) that he played his 'sexy tricks' on Alyssa's mother, maybe even her grandmother and great-grandmother which just reaches a whole new level of EW! Mothers, lock up your daughters, daughters lock up your MILFs, 'cause Morpheus is playing the entire board!
And Finally Alyssa: The pretty, little, alternative girl, with mixed blood, split between two worlds with the spine of a noodle. Alyssa is outspoken, for the most part, just not towards Jeb or Morpheus, not really. The two of them jerk her around so much, I was banging my head against the wall in frustration when she never finally said 'Enough! You suck, get the hell away from me!' to either of them.
I commend her for trying to save her mother but I cannot help but sigh because things never happen on her own terms. She's a teenager, she should know how to push her will through, at least SOME of the time, not just when circumstances provide the perfect opportunity (i.e. teardrop).
The saddest thing is that she's so caught in the love triangle that it really takes away from the story, that could have focused so much more on her coming to terms with her identity and her mother's supposed insanity but instead is a constant guessing game of 'who's she gonna choose?'. I also really dislike the whole cheating-bit, with Jeb, seen as I absolutely loathe cheating and the ways it is justified.
And it ends as all other love triangles (in first volumes): she picks one but keeps the other 'on the hook', because she 'just can't give him up'.
Other characters never seemed all that important or well fleshed out, not even those in Wonderland, which is a shame, because such a beautifully described place should have some equally enthralling inhabitants, IMO.
However, I do think the book is worth a read, because it is absolutely beautifully written and well described and the locations alone, will have you turning pages to soak in more.
Unfortunately, the characters bothered me so much that I don't think I will be picking up the sequel, I'm simply not a fan of love triangles, especially when there's such a wasted opportunity for the heroine to show some real gumption and take the smartest road: neither.